USA — Navy Official Discusses Climate Change Investment Strategy

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2010 — A num­ber of recent strate­gic Defense Depart­ment doc­u­ments have rec­og­nized that the chang­ing cli­mate may affect nation­al secu­ri­ty and mil­i­tary oper­a­tions lat­er in the cen­tu­ry.

This is par­tic­u­lar­ly true for the glob­al­ly deployed U.S. Navy, and invest­ments to address cli­mate chal­lenges may need to be made, the service’s oceanog­ra­ph­er said in a June 18 “DoD Live” blog­gers roundtable. 

“We’re going to have to fold these chal­lenges into a tight fis­cal bud­get,” acknowl­edged Navy Rear Adm. David W. Tit­ley, who also serves as direc­tor of the Navy’s Task Force Cli­mate Change. He explained that it is impor­tant not only to know what invest­ments are right to meet future require­ments, but also to know when to make them. 

“We want to basi­cal­ly pace the threat,” Tit­ley said. “We don’t want to get into a tail chase over cli­mate change, but at the same time, … we do not want to spend ahead of need, spend­ing for things that may not be required for years or decades later.” 

Tit­ley explained that to define the scope of need­ed invest­ments the Navy will con­duct capa­bil­i­ties-based assess­ments, which he described as foun­da­tion­al stud­ies to deter­mine the require­ments for such things as force struc­ture, infra­struc­ture, com­mand and con­trol and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “We’re doing one of these capa­bil­i­ties-based assess­ments for cli­mate change in gen­er­al, and anoth­er one focused specif­i­cal­ly on the Arc­tic,” he said. 

Tit­ley said the assess­ments were timed to coin­cide with the Navy’s pro­gram objec­tive mem­o­ran­dum for fis­cal 2014. POMs are annu­al events in which crit­i­cal deci­sions on the bud­get and invest­ment spend­ing are made. Tit­ley said he believes the 2014 bud­get is where the first cli­mate-change invest­ments may poten­tial­ly be made. 

“One of the invest­ments we’re real­ly going to have to think about in the next sev­er­al decades is the impact of sea lev­el rise on the Navy’s infra­struc­ture,” Tit­ley said. “That includes our ports and piers in the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States, but we also need to think about bases we use in con­junc­tion with our part­ners and allies overseas.” 

As an exam­ple, Tit­ley men­tioned Diego Gar­cia, a small, low-lying island in the Indi­an Ocean that hosts a strate­gic airfield. 

“The obser­va­tions have shown us that through the 20th cen­tu­ry, sea lev­el rose by an aver­age of two mil­lime­ters per year,” Tit­ley said. “So that means over the course of the cen­tu­ry, we had about 20 cen­time­ters, or rough­ly eight inch­es, of sea lev­el rise. The sea lev­el rise we’ve seen in the first 10 years of the new cen­tu­ry is already 50 per­cent greater than the aver­age sea lev­el rise in the 20th century.” 

Tit­ley explained that as the oceans get warmer, they expand and take up more space, caus­ing the sea lev­el to rise. In addi­tion, the land-based ice that already is melt­ing — includ­ing moun­tain glac­i­ers, the Green­land ice field, and even the west­ern Antarc­tic ice sheet — will add vol­ume to the ocean. He acknowl­edged con­sid­er­able uncer­tain­ty over the time line and extent of sea lev­el rise, but he not­ed that lead­ing cli­mate sci­en­tists believe sea lev­els could rise as much as six feet by the end of the century. 

“How prob­a­ble is this?” Tit­ley asked. “I’m not real­ly sure right now, but I am sure there are sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences. We need to make sure, as time goes by, that we under­stand it, we have a plan, and we know what it will cost us to exe­cute that plan. 

“That’s real­ly one of the foun­da­tion­al ele­ments the task force is going to pur­sue,” he added. 

In response to a ques­tion on spe­cif­ic infra­struc­ture upgrades, Tit­ley not­ed that there is no sin­gle answer, and said sci­en­tists and engi­neers will need to work togeth­er with local com­mu­ni­ties, tak­ing into account the specifics of every crit­i­cal loca­tion, to deter­mine what types of solu­tions will be needed. 

“That is what our capa­bil­i­ties-based assess­ments will be tasked to fig­ure out,” he said. 

When asked whether naval bases were pre­pared for stronger and more intense hur­ri­canes, Tit­ley said that the impact a warm­ing cli­mate may have on trop­i­cal storm devel­op­ment is con­tro­ver­sial and sub­ject to much research. He explained that ocean warm­ing is only one com­po­nent of hur­ri­cane for­ma­tion, and that oth­er fac­tors such as upper lev­el wind shear may not sup­port increased fre­quen­cy and intensity. 

“What I can tell you,” he said, “is that our region­al com­man­ders make sure their bases are pre­pared for severe hur­ri­canes every year.” 

Tit­ley said it’s essen­tial to improve pre­dic­tive capa­bil­i­ties on a vari­ety of time lines to pro­vide reli­able fore­casts to deci­sion mak­ers. These pre­dic­tions need to include weath­er and ocean fore­casts in the near term, as well as cli­ma­to­log­i­cal fore­casts extend­ing decades out, he added. 

“In the past, many fed­er­al agen­cies tend­ed to pro­duce their own pre­dic­tive mod­els,” Tit­ley said. He not­ed that he is engag­ing the lead­er­ship of oth­er agen­cies to cre­ate part­ner­ships that will ensure that the best minds in the nation are work­ing col­lec­tive­ly on solu­tions. These joint cli­mate mod­els could serve both mil­i­tary and civil­ian pur­pos­es, he said, rec­og­niz­ing that details regard­ing clas­si­fi­ca­tion and secu­ri­ty would need to be worked out. 

“I believe that the time is right, and the lead­er­ship in many agen­cies is right, to work this at a nation­al lev­el,” he said, “to make sure the tax­pay­er mon­ey we put into these pre­dic­tions give the absolute best return on our col­lec­tive invest­ment. We owe this to the Amer­i­can people.” 

Tit­ley said inter­na­tion­al part­ner­ships also are impor­tant to deal­ing effec­tive­ly with poten­tial cli­mate-change chal­lenges, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Arc­tic. He men­tioned that the Cana­di­an navy had invit­ed the Unit­ed States to par­tic­i­pate this year in its annu­al Oper­a­tion Nanook polar exer­cise. U.S. par­tic­i­pants will include a destroy­er, a mar­itime patrol air­craft, and spe­cial­ized ice div­ing units. 

“This is a tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty for sev­er­al hun­dred of our sailors and offi­cers to expe­ri­ence oper­at­ing ships and air­craft well north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle,” Tit­ley said. 

There is also a pro­pos­al to share lessons learned with the Dan­ish navy, which has sig­nif­i­cant expe­ri­ence oper­at­ing in the Arc­tic waters around its ter­ri­to­ry Green­land. In addi­tion, Tit­ley said, the Naval Research Lab­o­ra­to­ry is work­ing with the Russ­ian navy in the Kara Sea this sum­mer, and there are cur­rent dis­cus­sions with the Inter­na­tion­al Hydro­graph­ic Orga­ni­za­tion to deter­mine how to best work with region­al part­ners in coop­er­a­tive ocean-sur­vey­ing operations. 

“This is not meant to be all inclu­sive,” Tit­ley said, “but it is an indi­ca­tion of progress in just the last cou­ple of months towards oppor­tu­ni­ties to work with our inter­na­tion­al partners.” 

Tit­ley not­ed some oth­er exam­ples of progress in con­sid­er­ing the strate­gic impact of cli­mate change. 

“Recent­ly, the chief of naval oper­a­tions signed out the Navy’s Arc­tic strate­gic objec­tives,” he said, “and this gives every­body in the Navy a com­mon frame of ref­er­ence to under­stand what we are try­ing to achieve.” 

He added that the Navy wants to ensure a “safe, sta­ble, and secure Arctic.” 

Tit­ley said the main goal of Task Force Cli­mate Change is to ensure the Navy is not tak­en by strate­gic sur­prise, and he expressed sat­is­fac­tion that cli­mate change is being con­sid­ered in strate­gic war games and lim­it­ed objec­tive exper­i­ments. He described these as “think­ing exer­cis­es” that exam­ine var­i­ous strate­gic sce­nar­ios to deter­mine how to han­dle them, to eval­u­ate whether the assets are avail­able to han­dle them, and to iden­ti­fy shortfalls. 

“Nobody knows what the future will entail,” Tit­ley said, “but if you run a range of sce­nar­ios, and you see that there are com­mon capa­bil­i­ties and capac­i­ties that you would need to answer those sce­nar­ios, then you can real­ly inform a future bud­get debate.” 

Office of the Oceanog­ra­ph­er of the Navy
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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